NYC is ranked the 7th biggest megacity in the world, with a population of more than 23,000,000 inhabitants, and yet the Government of NYC was able to renovate an old elevated freight rail line that was slated to be demolished, and transform it into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side. It immediately became a great example to be followed by other cities.
What is the story behind the High-Line?
Before 1934, trains in New York City run on the streets, between buildings. In 1929 the State of New York and the New York Central Railroad agreed to build an elevated railway in order to eliminate 105 street-level railroad crossing. It was just too chaotic to have trains running in the hearth of Manhattan. Thus trains that brought manufactured goods in and out NYC began using the High Line in 1934.
After World War II, manufacturing in the city declined and so did rail transport. A section of the High-Line was demolished in the 1960s, and the last train run in 1980. After that, the High-Line was completely abandoned.
In 1998 CSX Corporation (an international transportation company offering a variety of rail, container-shipping, intermodal, trucking and contract logistics services) bought part of the High-Line, with the challenge to find some uses for the property into the future.
At that time, lots of people wanted to demolish it down because they considered it as a safety hazard.
Friends of the High-Line (a non-profit organization founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as public open space) were the first one to see something other than demolition for the future of the High-Line.
The inhabitants of the area saw the High-Line as an ugly obstacle to neighborhood’s redevelopment, while the Friends of the High-Line saw it as a resource for redevelopment. And from that, the project of creating a public park became reality.
The first section of the High-Line was redeveloped in April 2006 and opened in June 2009. Following this, the second section was opened in June 2011, and the third/final section was opened in September 2014. Now the High-Line is fully viable.
This project brought many advantages; here following the main three (in my environmental/sustainable point of view):
- The High-Line is an advanced system for water drainage and retention. Under the footbridge, there is an intricate system. Water runoff flows into the open joints of the plank, and it is absorbed into the planting beds. This process helps to reduce water runoff by 80% and keep the planting beds healthy. This is an important water conservation measure to allow plants receive additional water and thus reduces irrigation demands.
- It contributes to the reduction of “urban heat island effect” created by various human activities. The increase in green space creates shades, produces more oxygen and gets the temperature down more quickly by transpiration (It is a process that accelerates the loss of soil water from the leaf surfaces of plants while absorbing heat simultaneously).
- The High-Line with a community of plants creates a habitat for insects and birds to boost biodiversity. It is one of the most biologically diverse and species-rich system in the New York-Tristate area.
The High-Line is not just a footbridge to use to avoid the chaos of private and public transports but it also provides the local community with a public space for leisure uses, such as Tai-Chi, meditation, stargazing, “collectivity projects” for kids and for adults, boxing, Latin dance party etc. Many people tour the habitat, garden and art of the famous High-Line.
“The High Line is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when communities and their elected leaders work together for the common good.” said Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of Friends of the High-Line, a private non-profit conservancy organization that maintains and operates the High-Line.
The High-Line was just seen as a safety hazard for years, but now it became one of the top three attractions in NYC. This project tells us that we humans should look at things in smarter ways. Sometimes, appropriate reuse of abandoned areas can achieve better economic and ecological outcomes, as compared to complete redevelopment. Indeed, the High-Line is one of the excellent examples showing what we can do if we stop thinking only about ourselves and start thinking about the environment as well. Then the environment will give life back to us.